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Tom Graveney remembers the Headingley Test of 1981
I count myself extremely fortunate to have witnessed one of the greatest turn-ups ever likely to be seen in this game of cricket. England, completely outplayed for three and a half days, put on one of the most astonishing escapes of all time.
It was the same old pattern of English bowling not quite straight enough and catching not quite good enough. Against a better directed attack the batting, predictably, struggled and, just as expected, England were forced to follow-on.
Graham Dilley, who plays the straight delivery as well as anyone, and the unorthodox Chris Old helped Ian Botham first to save the follow-on and then to give England some sort of a lead. This was cricket at its bravest and best, something that had been lacking until then. Perhaps the most surprising thing about that late stand was that no-one gave a chance during all the thrashing that was going on.
The wicket was never a good one and for anyone to survive it needed an equal balance of ability, luck and courage. Ian Botham had all these things in abundance plus his tremendous strength - he once pulled a ball not farshort of a length from Alderman over deepish mid-on. Watching the replay, I reckon he hit it near the splice! It was the innings of a lifetime and it brought a disillusioned and critical crowd to life. From waiting for the final rites of the Ashes being played out they were suddenly behind a rejuvenated team.
I have only one simple criticism of the Australian captain. Dilley played the fast bowlers so well that I thought Ray Bright might have had a crack at him, bowling over the wicket into the rough, not an easy problem for an inexperienced player. Australia, needing 130 to win, seemed to be coasting home, getting beyond the half century for the loss of only one wicket. Then came the second miracle of the match. Bob Willis switched from the top end where he began his demolition of the brittle Australian batting, backed up by some super fielding and catching.
The wickets of Hughes and Yallop in the over before lunch really set the ground alight. Even the spectators sensed the possibility of victory. I don't think I have ever heard a bigger noise per head of population at a sporting occasion as the one that greeted the flying middle stump of the last wicket. It was an ovation richly deserved for a monumental effort.
Mike Brearley did his job magnificently, especially when suddenly from nowhere Lillee and Bright added 35 in just four overs to get Australia within striking distance: there was no panic, although I suspect everyone not Australian had that awful sinking feeling.
The jubilation of the victory was wonderful to see and every Englishman was proud of this famous victory. For myself, watching England struggle for so long this season, it was a revelation. However, I must say how very sad I was to hear the unfortunate words by Bob Willis in an interview after the game regarding the media.
When I played and had a bad match or a bad day, and I had quite a few, I expected criticism, but I didn't need the press to tell me. I just didn't read the papers! I suppose I am now part of the media and I know that I am not an exception when I say that I want England to win. The strangely bitter words will be forgotten and we shall remember an unbelievable game of cricket.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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